An Art Outrage

The Arts Censorship Religion


There is no denying that hostile militant activity, sectarian violence, and political instability have left Pakistan swathed in discontent over the past few years. However, by looking at Pakistan through a despondent narrow light, people restrict themselves from appreciating the region’s innate beauty. Pakistan’s grandeur can be found in its spectacular northern mountain ranges, rich heritage, vibrant culture, delectable food, and a booming art market that has grown to become a foundation of national pride.


Pakistan is resilient and continues to stand strong in the face of regional disturbances. Bright young minds and academics have utilized domestic media outlets to protest the glaring hypocrisy that defines extremism. In addition to the power of the written word, local publications are discussing how the value of Pakistani art has tripled in the past decade, not only from an economic perspective, but also from a political standpoint.


This booming creative market has recently come under scrutiny from extremist groups, who criticize various facets of artistic expression to be offensive to Islamic beliefs. For instance, in January 2012 Jamaat ul Dawa, a notorious religious party, accused Pakistan’s leading arts college of committing blasphemy. According to Jamaat ul Dawa, the National College of Arts (NCA) reproduced alleged homoerotic paintings of clerics standing alongside a group of seminude young boys. This is a serious accusation, because blasphemy is a crime that has been punishable by death in Pakistan since the 1980s. For this reason, NCA immediately retracted its contemporary arts journal in which the paintings were featured and dismissed the editorial board.


Reproductions of paintings by Pakistani artist Muhammad Ali, published in and then retracted from the Journal of Contemporary Art and Culture (photo: Queerty)


Jamaat ul Dawa’s legal proceedings against NCA appear to be unabated and remain unclear. This is just a single example of how artistic expression is seen as a major obstacle to the influence of radical activists in the country. These extremist communities are desperately trying to prevent Pakistanis from reaching their intellectual and academic potential. They are always wary of their supposed authority being threatened by progressive minds. If Pakistanis are free to think, act, and question as they please, these radical beliefs will only face blatant ridicule.



The world should see that Pakistan has more to offer. The people are not only talented, but also warm and graciously hospitable. Close to 170 million individuals reside in Pakistan today. I can guarantee that a small minority of this staggering population contributes to the repulsive violence that stormed the country from 2002 onwards.


Even if these Taliban factions are small in number, their power to instill fear continues to prevail, and that is why their actions have gravely impacted Pakistan. The art institution has always been perceived as a formidable advocate of liberal views in the country, which is why I choose to focus on Pakistan’s artistic and literary heritage, sincerely hoping that it doesn’t continuously yield to extremist pressure.



Follow Anam on Twitter @anamk10



Islam, Pakistan